tv Fault Lines Al Jazeera April 19, 2014 7:00pm-7:31pm EDT
>> does it for us on this saturday evening. thanks so much for joining us. i am jonathan betz. i will be back with another hour of news. stay with us because "fault lines" starts right now on al jazeera america. >> the united states is changing the way it operates in space. territory that was once largely monopolized by nasa has slowly been ceded to the private sector. >> like all good corporations, these companies are armed with slick promotional videos. and their excellent pr machines are generating hours of airtime, >> well i think we could probably send the first person
in about 12 years. >> wow >> and mostly positive news reports. >> it's going to be an incredibly exciting year. and we're very, very happy to be a part of this project. >> but there seems to be a lack of some fundamental questions. how has this all come about? and what does the future hold if corporations-who hope to generate huge profits-hold the key to the final frontier? >> in the spring of 1961 the united states is locked in this very desperate struggle with the soviet union over the cold war. and it's really a battle over the economic and political systems that are going to rule the world. >> on april 12th, 1961, the russian cosmonaut yuri gagarin broke through earth's atmosphere. delivering a body blow to us dominance in science.
>> "no nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in the race for space...we have vowed that we shall not see it governed by a hostile flag of conquest, but by a banner of freedom and peace...we choose to go to the moon!" >> think about how ridiculous that had to sound to the rest of the world because we hadn't yet put a single person into orbit. >> 500 years from now, in my opinion...there's only one thing that they remember about the 20th century, that's a man went to the moon. >> "it's one small step for man - one giant leap for mankind." >> it really wasn't of significance who got to the moon first. >> so you don't see the landing on the moon as a great nationalistic achievement?
>> there's no question this was a great propaganda achievement, but if you actually think of the military significance it was not of any real consequence. >> we went to the moon for geopolitical purposes and absent the cold war environment of 1961, there is probably no president that would have committed the kind of resources that the us committed to this effort. >> space has always been in play in terms of global politics and war and so forth; usually in an exaggerated, fear mongering way >> maybe we were doing it just to explore, maybe we're doing it just to show that we could crush our enemies from space and that's a very dark view of government space travel, but it's always been part of government controlled space travel. >> at the time of the apollo missions- nasa was receiving over 5% of the us federal budget.
in 2013, it was less than one half of one percent. >> 4...3...2...1...and lift off! lift off of the 25th space shuttle mission and it has cleared the tower. >> and the agency's prestige has declined with that funding. in spite of its many major achievements, it's nasa's failures that have grabbed america's attention. >> engines throttling up. three engines now at 104 percent. challenger, go at throttle up. "roger go at throttle up." >> both challenger and columbia suggested the management system and safety culture at nasa was flawed. "flight controllers here looking very carefully at the situation. obviously a major malfunction." >> after columbia it meant that
we really needed to think about moving on. >> nasa retired the space shuttle in 2011 - the program deemed too expensive. it also meant that us government could no longer consider itself a gatekeeper to space travel. >> we are now in a very uncomfortable position of relying on the russians to fly our people to the space station. >> the writing was on the wall. in 2001, dennis tito - a wealthy us businessman - went against nasa's wishes and paid $20 million dollars to hitch a ride on a russian rocket to the international space station. tito's launch was a shot heard round the world by entrepreneurs with deep pockets and cosmic ambitions. suddenly access to space was available to anyone - at a price.
it was now a commercial, not a national interest. quickly nasa got on board and outsourcing became the name of the game. nasa now has an $800 million dollar program to develop the commercial space market. its still taxpayer money - but the contracts have gone to private companies like space x, blue origin, sierra nevada and orbital sciences. none of these companies about communicating their mission statements and accomplishments. space x successfully delivered its first payload to the international space station last year, live-streaming it all online. >> low earth orbit will be more and more, as we progress into the 21st century, a realm of private sector activities. >> so who are the men leading the charge? >> richard branson, multibillionaire. paul allen. multibillionaire.
jeff bezos. multibillionaire. larry page. multibillionaire. elon musk. >> elon musks, the jeff bezos, the paul allens, myself, diamandis, all of us who are in this cause right now, i believe, come from a place of hope and possibility. >> rick tumlinson is the ceo of deep space industries, one of two asteroid mining companies in the us. >> several of us were sitting in the room, it was about 1986, 1987. we pledged our lives and fortunes to making the human breakout into space happen in our lifetimes. we called it the benevolent conspiracy. well, that same group of people are still involved today and we're making it happen. >> what will tomorrow look like? our world is at our limits at yet we all want more. and why not?
why shouldn't the future be better than today? >> but he prime directive of all these companies that you name seems to be profits. but the way you speak about it is like this... >> no buck, no buck rogers. nobody stays until somebody pays. it can be you the taxpayer, and that's wonderful, thank you very much. but the day that you get bored and turn away, nothing's going to happen after that. i, we, have to figure out a way to make it profitable so that we can pay the bills. >> now, at the beginning of the 21st century, a space has been created for private companies to operate. the commercial space launch act signed into law by reagan in 1984 already allows private firms to launch into space. today the technology is there, and the us government has been forced to slash federal budgets for nasa - space is moving to a free- market system. this is the age of private space exploration. but what will it look like when many of the companies are in the hands of a certain group of people?
>> who owns those rocks? who gives you the right to go out to those rocks? >> nobody owns those rocks. >> but if you're taking this stuff are you taking ownership of those rocks? >> look, there are people who will sit back and go "well, you have to share all of this with humanity because it's the common heritage of mankind." the best way i know to share wealth is the free enterprise system. it works... >> there is this libertarian streak that runs through some of the new space community, no doubt. i contend that it goes back a long way. you see it beginning in the about 1969, 1970 for the first time, in which people who are enthused by the apollo program are disappointed by its ending so you see that kind of thing taking place in the seventies and it's kind of carried through and evolved over time and there's still a strain of that that's present in lots of parts of the new space community. >> but i think that all of these
men were brought up to believe that the world, the solar system, the universe is theirs for the taking. this libertarian thinking is all wound up with other uniquely american ideologies. this idea of manifest destiny, that it's our manifest destiny to conquer outer space, to exploit its resources, to colonize other planets. >> aljazeera america presents a break through television event borderland... >> are you tellin' me it's ok to just open the border, and let em' all run in? >> the teams live through the hardships that forced mira, omar and claudette into the desert. >> running away is not the answer... >> is a chance at a better life worth leaving loved ones behind? >> did omar get a chance to tell you goodbye before he left? >> which side of the fence are you on? >> sometimes immigration is the only alternative people have. borderland
>> billionaires with designs on space rarely go on record. but one of them did return our calls. >> i've met him very briefly a couple of times. he impressed me as a really las vegas kind of guy. he winked at me and that seemed very 70's >> this particular space entrepreneur made his money from a terrestrial hotel chain: budget suites of america. it's turned its owner robert bigelow into a billionaire and now he wants to take that fortune and put it toward launching the first hotel in space.
mr. bigelow invited fault lines to visit his sprawling property. >> he has his own police force out here. >> uh, yes sir, if you could kindly go over here to the office, i'll get you signed in and everything. >> ok >> it's heavily guarded by his own armed security personnel. >> this is the tightest security i have ever experienced outside of a us military base in iraq. >> bigelow aerospace's unofficial logo - an alien face - is plastered throughout his property. he's spent millions investigating alien sightings. >> if you do the homework, there is no way you can examine that topic and not be convinced that it's real. that et is real. there is no way, especially if you have access to certain information and sources and so on, and i do. >> these are the habitats that bigelow aerospace is developing.
he currently has two test modules in orbit around the earth. his next aim: to plant one of his inflatable hotels on the moon. >> that's one interesting thing about volumes in space, is that, you know, you have a lot more possibilities of the areas that you can use. >> sure, that's the sleeping quarters for six people. >> uh huh, all the way around. >> huh... so each one of those little cavities is for one person. ultimately, maybe around 2022 or 23 we might be ready to deploy this lunar base. >> what gives you the right to have a lunar base, to put something on the moon? >> so it's not as though there is a particular given right, per se, as much as an opportunity. >> it sounds like you're saying the moon is there for the taking for whoever gets there. >> oh, i think that it is, it definitely is. i think there is a really interesting dynamic going on about 10, 12 years out. because i've talked about this in public, and i think that the
moon is an enormously valuable asset. more direct to the value of the moon itself. well, what can you bring home that has high value? maybe it's helium 3, i don't know. people have talked about it for decades. there's large quantities there, there's no quantity of helium 3 here. it is difficult to extract, but i think that problem is probably solvable and it offers the promise of a completely new energy source. >> when it comes to government oversight, bigelow isn't too concerned. in fact, he would prefer that the federal government stay out of his business. sort of. >> our whole behavior and philosophy and everything is so diametrically opposite to washington d.c. in general. it is pathetic...we don't want anything to do with washington, d.c. >> speaking of nasa, when you say you don't want anything to do with dc, but you've signed a contract with nasa for $18 million dollars. >> being willing to criticize nasa, or government in general,
doesn't make us stupid enough not to take the money when it's offered to us! >> the rocket burner burns for a bit and it turns off. and the moment it turns off-everything inside the ship will become weightless-so you'll be able to get out of your seat, unbuckle your seatbelt, float around the cabin, and then come back in. and we'll ask people to get back in their seats. and you'll just do a glide, using the wings of the vehicle down to the runway that you took off from. >> virgin galactic - the space offshoot of british aerospace giant virgin -plans to take customers for a ride into low-earth orbit to experience zero gravity. flights are expected to begin this year. leonardo di caprio and justin bieber are signed-up as paying customers. the price for a ticket - $250,000. george whitesides
virgin galactic's ceo. >> we've got a carrier aircraft that brings the spaceship up to 50,000 feet where it releases the spaceship. and the spaceship fires its rocket motor, makes a turn vertical, and you start heading up at mach 3. >> the construction began more than 6 years ago and the costs were more than 200-million dollars. no small fee, even for a billionaire. for sir richard branson, the founder of the company, the inauguration of the spaceport was an occasion for champagne, but that could be because he's not paying for it. >> he did not contribute a dime to the construction of this project. >> how much has he given to the local community? >> to my knowledge absolutely nothing. >> the spaceport was built here in dona ana county -
one of the poorest counties in one of the poorest states in america. 25% of the people here live below the poverty line. residents will be paying a sales tax for the next 15 years to cover their contribution to the building of the spaceport. and almost no one here can afford to take a ride in space. >> the people that would be able to afford it would come in their own private jet, take their own limo, do their hour flight, take their limo back and fly back home. i think it would just be, they would come in and come out. >> now it's just there. it's a building that's out there, nobody visits it. we don't, you know. i haven't even heard when the flights are gonna start, you know? people are already paying for tickets i don't see any money of that. you know? so it's just, it's just a waste. >> karen perez is former county commissioner for dona ana. she said that the county voted
to approve the tax after being promised jobs. >> they're hungry. they're looking for jobs. and again these were jobs promised at all levels. this wasn't high-tech, highfalutin jobs. these were real boots-on-the-ground types of jobs. our governor promised us--we heard promises from anywhere from 1500 to 5000 new jobs associated with this endeavor. and we were excited about the construction. we have a lot of contractors here that do earthwork and concrete work and utility work and we really had a lot of high hopes. >> what happened? >> none of that materialized. >> almost all of the construction contracts went to companies from albuquerque or out of state. >> on al jazeera america when science intersects with hope. >> i'm hoping to give someone a prosthetic arm for under $1000
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how will humans be changed by space travel. >> with private companies moving to the forefront of space travel in the hope of generating huge profits, it begs the question -- was it really supposed to be this way? >> "the economics of the future are somewhat different." >> was humanity's quest for the stars ever supposed to be a business venture? >> "the acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in our lives." >> that's a way of imagining a humanity that has gotten beyond the kind of greed for resources that we have now >> - and on the other side of that you get a dystopian future you see both this kind of fear of military intervention tied to a kind of corporate corruption. >> and we want to make sure that as these kinds of moves into space are happening and that our politics are keeping pace with them and that we actually do have a lively public dialogue
about that. and i think right now that dialogue is taking place in the world of science-fiction. and it needs to come out of that. i think we need to have people saying "this isn't just fiction." and stop pretending like this is just a fictional possibility. it's not. it's happening. >> the federal aviation administration is responsible for overseeing the safety of low earth orbit flights and the content of the payload in the us. but when commercial space activities move beyond this sector of space - it becomes less clear who's in charge. the international treaties that exist are there to govern nations not corporations... >> missions where the private sector does have a lot of capability. pushing more responsibility over to them i think is the right thing, it's something that nasa has gotten more comfortable with as we go forward.
>> are you concerned about the idea of exploitation beyond exploration? it seems that nasa does exploration, but another other companies are looking at mining asteroids. mining the moon. these types of activities. does that concern you? >> more better. >> even though mining on the moon, there is no hesitation, like 'wait a second, guys.' >> we don't own the moon, nasa doesn't feel any ownership over the moon even though we were the first to get there- - which was great and a great accomplishment--but if people want to do things on the moon that's great. >> the outer-space treaty was a product of its time and place. there were only two actors in space at that point: the united states and the soviet union. and the key provision in there is "no property rights in space." absent property rights how can we engage in moon mining, extraction? that's going to be an interesting question that has to be worked out. and there's lots of lawyers who deal with space law who've been debating this for years. but until there's actually a test case it probably won't be
resolved. >> all of the international laws that's and all the regulations we have about space exploration are designed for states. so we don't really have any laws or regulations in place for corporations. >> if we put too many rules in place right now that lead to us not being able to open space, i think it would be an obscenity. i think it is anti-life. >> the most vocal supporters of a space free-for-all are the corporations and their billionaire backers. they insist it is not only their right to stake a claim in space, they're scratching a fundamental human 'itch'. it may appear rather abstract -- but 7 billion people back on earth, seem to have been locked out of an important conversation. one, which over the long term, could decide the model of how humans break the final frontier. the fear is that that model could be decided by a wealthy
few. >> it goes back to the something more basic. that humans have an instinct to explore, to migrate, to expand their environment >> what we're looking at now when we talk about opening up the frontier is more of a partnership, wherein the government takes the role of lewis and clark. they go over the hill, they go out into the plains, they look around, they tell us what they find. and then we open the frontier to the settlers and shopkeepers. >> i wish there was a broader understanding of the way that this american ideology of exceptionalism and manifest destiny is so deeply embedded in the rhetoric of space exploration. >> many people have this kind of manifest destiny...canvas covered wagons heading off to california and it's a very positive sort of experience. >> and i worry about the ability
of the us government, or us companies for that matter, to build partnerships with other space faring nations when this way of thinking does not resonate, does not appeal to people living in other cultures. >> it's happening right now. there are people walking around right now who will walk on mars, who will walk on the moon, who will float in habitats in free space in worlds that were built by human beings. right now. >> we pray for the children in the womb >> a divisive issue >> god is life , so it's his to take >> see a 10 year old girl who's pregnant, and you tell me that's what god wants... >> a controversial law >> where were you when the babies lives were being saved? >> are women in texas paying the price?
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